After spending yesterday with Typhoid Greg and his husband, when the two Rome in Limo vans were loaded to go to Pisa and Florence, there was considerable jockeying for position in order to avoid spending another day with Greg, his germs, and his unpleasant behavior. We ended up in the non-germy van (yeah!) with Amin and Zahra, Ron and Phyllis (the older couple we were with the previous day) and Rick and Tina (a fun couple from Florida that I will write more about later). We had a really fun group of people!
We were getting a little tired at this point from the constant touring, so were very pleasantly surprised by the itinerary today; it was not quite so intense as the past days had been. We started out by driving to Pisa from the port of Livorno through the Tuscany region. Livorno is the second largest city in the Tuscany region, and was completely rebuilt after World War II, so very modern looking. Originally, the Medici family ruled the area and founded the city; they wanted a new port. It was built in a pentagonal shape, like Venice.
We drove on the Aurelian road, which was the first road in Europe. It is now SS1 (State road #1), and goes from Rome to France, which is only a four hour drive. We passed by many umbrella pine trees (Mediterranean Pine). These are the trees that give pine nuts, which are found in the cones.
We arrived in Pisa, a town of about 120,000. One-fourth to one-third of the population are students; Pisa University is an important school, with Math and Physics being the primary areas of study. Galileo was the head of the Math Department, back in the day! There are many leaning buildings in Pisa, due to the soft, sandy soil.
On to the tower! There are three parts: the Cathedral (built in 1063), the Baptistry (built in 1153) and, of course, the Bell Tower (built in 1172). The bell tower contains 7 bells. It was closed for 5 years approximately 20 years ago to undergo work to keep it from falling over! Architects and engineers from all over were called upon to figure out a way to stabilize the tower.
Of course, we had to try to get the cheesy requisite “holding up the tower” picture. Of course, my husband had to do it backwards, because that is just who he is!! It was surprisingly difficult to get a good picture that shows the tower leaning; if you get too close, you lose the perspective of the tilt. There isn’t too much to see in town, so we bought some water in order to use a bathroom, and then did a little souvenir shopping. We bought a couple of souvenirs for the grandkids, and then headed back to the van to head to our next stop.
The drive from the Tuscany region to the Chianti region was gorgeous; hillsides full of grape vines and olive trees. The grapes are San Giovanni grapes, which produce Chianti wine. We passed by the birthplace of Puccini, and first Vespa factory. Our tour guide told us about the good deals to be had on leather goods in Florence. Phyllis asked him, “where does leather come from?”. Rick responded, “cows”. We all had a good laugh over that one! We passed by the town of Vinci, home of Leonardo da Vinci (literally, Leonardo from Vinci!).
We stopped at a place that pressed olive oil. Shockingly enough, they had a nice little gift shop. We were able to taste the olive oil. I was amazed at how sweet and fruity it tasted. I guess that is the difference between fresh olive oil, and what we can buy at home commercially. Many in the group purchased olive oil and/or wine. I would’ve bought some olive oil, but the quantities it was sold in were huge. I can’t see toting home a quart of olive oil in my suitcase! As for the wine, if you bring a bottle or two back on to the ship, and want to drink it, you are charged a $15 corkage fee for the privilege. The other option is to have it confiscated when you board; it is returned to you when you disembark the ship at your final port. We would then have to pack it in our luggage, and hope for the best on the flight home. Not worth the trouble, in my opinion.
On to Florence! Before entering the city, we stopped at an overlook (Piazzale Michelangelo) and took pictures of the city. There was a “fake David” statue made of bronze there. Florence was built in 4 AD. Santa Maria del Fiori is the main church, and has the traditional 3 parts: cathedral, baptistry and bell tower. The Santa Maria Nuovo Hospital in Florence is the oldest hospital (built in 1200). By the way, there is free health care for all in Italy. Another interesting fact: there is a large Chinese population in Florence. Who knew?
We stopped for lunch, and I had an amazing lasagna. Of course, to complement the meal, I had to try a big glass of Chianti! The wine only cost 1 Euro more than a 6 oz. can of diet pepsi! We had a little spare time after eating, so looked around the market stalls that were near us. I wanted to buy an Italian leather purses; the prices here were pretty inexpensive. Unfortunately, I could not find one in a style that I really liked. Back to the van!
We were dropped off at a downtown Florence piazza. We were going to hang out with Amin & Zahra, but quickly lost them at a gelato shop, so continued on our own. We walked across the Ponte Vecchio (literally “old bridge”) that crosses the Arno River. The bridge has been covered with shops since the 13th century. Legend has it that if you and your loved one attach a padlock to any surface on the bridge, and throw the key into the Arno River, that your love will last forever. We didn’t have a padlock with us, so guess we will just have to hope for the best!
We wandered around town for a bit, looking through the flea market for a purse. I guess I am too picky, because I couldn’t find any that I wanted to buy. We headed back to the Duomo (cathedral) to have a look around. We ran into Amin and Zahra here, so toured the cathedral together. They had the most beautiful arrangements of candles that I have ever seen in a church. I lit a candle for my friend, Colleen, and said a prayer for her. From there we went to the piazza and waited to be picked up. In the picture below, can you tell who is the American in the crowd?
Our final stop in Florence was the Accademia. Of course, there were plenty of masterpieces to drool over. We especially enjoyed the statue room. We saw the second of Michelangelo’s Pietas. But, the main draw was seeing the statue of David. Wow! It is hard for me to describe just how awe inspiring the statue was. The detail that Michelangelo was able to create out of marble! You could see the veins in David’s arms. Again, wow!
There was also an exhibit of musical instruments that I found very interesting. There were some unusual woodwind instruments, and plenty of clarinets.
It was a one hour drive from Florence back to the port of Livorno. Several in the group slept, the rest of us chatted about our day. After 3 days in a row of pretty intense touring, I went to bed at 7:30, and slept until 7:30 the following morning. I NEVER sleep that long! But, apparently, I needed it!